The son of a Canadian-Iranian professor who died under suspicious circumstances in an Iranian prison says his widowed mother is now being unjustly investigated by the country’s most powerful security institution – the same agency that arrested his father earlier this year.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Ramin Seyed-Emami said the intelligence arm of the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has opened a national-security case against his mother, Maryam Mombeini. Ms. Mombeini was barred from leaving Iran when she tried to flee the country with her sons in March after her husband Kavous Seyed-Emami mysteriously died in an Iranian prison.
“They’ve opened up a national-security case against her saying that she’s complicit in the alleged accusations of espionage [against her husband],” Ramin said.
“We’re really worried that any moment she could be taken away.”
Ramin, who now lives with friends in Vancouver after fleeing Iran, said his mother continues to languish in Tehran. He said she is facing a “bureaucratic runaround” from Iranian officials, who have asked her to meet them at Evin Prison, where her husband died in February.
“Obviously we don’t want our mom to go there. We told her under no circumstances are you going to that horrible place,” he said.
Prof. Seyed-Emami taught sociology at Imam Sadegh University in Tehran and conducted environmental research as managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. He died in Tehran’s Evin prison after he was arrested at the end of January on what his family says were unsubstantiated allegations of spying.
Prof. Seyed-Emami’s arrest was part of an Iranian crackdown on environmentalists in recent months. Just this week, the deputy head of Iran’s environment department, Kaveh Madani, resigned after leaving the country amid mounting pressure from hardliners.
The Seyed-Emami family – all Iranian-Canadian citizens – decided to flee Iran because they were facing harassment, threats and smear campaigns for rejecting Iranian authorities’ claim that their husband and father died by suicide in prison.
Iranian authorities confiscated Ms. Momebeini’s Iranian passport at the airport on March 8, moments before she was scheduled to board a Vancouver-bound flight with her sons. She told her sons to board the plane without her and has been barred from leaving Iran since.
Ramin said his family has been in regular contact with the Canadian government officials working on his mother’s consular case.
“We’re really hoping that they’re exhausting all avenues to help expedite the situation but to be honest, it doesn’t sound very promising at the moment,” Ramin said.
Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called on Iran to allow Ms. Mombeini to return to Canada. Ms. Freeland has also requested a one-on-one discussion with her Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, which has yet to happen. The Canadian government says it is using all diplomatic channels at its disposal, including the Canadian mission at the United Nations, to push for Ms. Mombeini’s return to Canada.
Speaking on background, a senior Canadian government official said Ms. Mombeini’s case is the sole focus of Ottawa’s current dealings with Iran. Canada has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran, as the two countries severed ties in 2012 when the former Conservative government closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran and kicked Iranian diplomats out of Canada. The official said efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations are essentially on hold until Ms. Mombeini is allowed to leave Iran.
Meanwhile, the Seyed-Emami brothers continue to press for their mother’s return to Canada, launching a #BringMaryamHome campaign. Ramin, a musician, will hold two concerts in Toronto and Vancouver in May to raise funds for his family’s ordeal. The family has been under financial pressure since Iranian authorities seized the deeds to their home in Iran.